The cognitohazard inside this common hypnosis question

Let me begin by saying that cognitohazards are real.

Some of you are already thinking, “LOL, you’ve read too much SCP Foundation”. To which I would say there’s no such thing – that site is awesome.

But most of you are wondering what cognitohazards are.

If you break the term apart, it’s exactly that – something that’s dangerous, even harmful, to think.

Examples of this show up in fiction all the time. I already mentioned the SCP Foundation, where cognitohazards are magical (sorry, ‘anomalous’) images, phrases or entities that kill you if you think about them.

In most fiction, knowing the true name of a demon lets you control them. Sometimes, thinking the name merely summons them.

In Chase Hughes’ Phrase Seven, the eponymous phrase is a finely tuned psychological weapon – one that drops the listener into a hypersuggestable state. The other phrases are just as dangerous to hear.

If you stretch the definition, then ‘Voldemort’ is a spoken cognitohazard in the last Harry Potter book. Since only his most dangerous enemies call him that, his followers use magic to locate anyone who says it.

And, of course, Lovecraft. Simply knowing anything about Cthulhu or the true nature of reality drives mortals insane.

I know, I know.

Blah blah blah, fiction.

Unless space octopuses and wizards are real, none of that is of any concern.

So let’s talk about some real cognitohazards.

Or rather, let’s talk around them. Talking about them would be foolish.

Buddhism and modern science agree: existence is suffering. The default experience for living creatures, when everything is going well, is happiness and satisfaction, plus fear and pain. To deny this truth is to suppress, ignore and ultimately empower your suffering, which is what makes stoicism one of the most practical philosophies around.

One of the main causes of this suffering is unresolved trauma. When you were young and fragile, you buried your fear, anger, misery and pain because you couldn’t deal with it.

And unless you’ve resolved it since then, it’s still there.

And if you faced this mental damage without proper preparation, it would likely cause a psychotic break. I’m not saying that to be edgy or exaggerate – I mean it literally. A genuine psychological snap, where you lose touch with reality.

In hypnosis circles, we call that an abreaction.

It’s usually temporary and can be a healing process… but it can also be dangerous.

So there’s a thought that’s dangerous to think – your own forgotten pain.

Another example:

A certain online community discusses human thought, rationality, AI and a few related topics. One member came up with a thought experiment and shared it. This wasn’t a horror story, disturbing anecdote or concerning line of research. It was purely hypothetical. Even so, just hearing it gave some members full-blown panic attacks.


Ideas can be dangerous. If a thought goes against your social programming, it can be depressing, aggravating and even painful.

At the extreme end, imagine your people have been brutally enslaved for generations. No one even talks about freedom or rebellion anymore.

Thinking about your freedom is dangerous for all the obvious reasons.

But if you think the only danger comes from your overlords, you don’t understand human nature.

These thoughts attract pain from your fellow slaves… and even your own mental defences.

Thinking too far outside the social norm is unpleasant, which is why all ‘non-conformists’ dress alike. Hipsters, teenaged rebels and goths don’t reject societies – they simple adhere to smaller ones. Truly individual thinking is painful, dangerous and destabilising to your psyche. It’s not impossible, of course, but best done in small doses.

After all, genius and eccentricity tend to correlate…

All of which brings me to the crux of the article.

I’ve been asked a question about hypnosis pretty often.

And every time I hear it, I cringe.

I cringe because the question contains a cognitohazard.

Asking the question – even just thinking it – is harmful.

It won’t kill you or drive you mad, but it does damage.

Damage that can last a lifetime.

Unlike the other cognitohazards in this article, I will get specific here. It’s important that you can name this beast, so you can expunge it from your life.

The common and dangerous question is some variation of:

“My child is a handful/doesn’t sleep/won’t eat their veggies/talks back too often. Can you use hypnosis on them to help with that?”

Often, they say this as a joke. Sometimes it’s serious.

Either way, it’s hazardous to think… and worse to say.

Here’s why:

It’s possible to hypnotise children. But, by some definitions of hypnosis, you don’t need to. Up until their teen years, they’re in a sort of trance all the time.

Heightened suggestibility is one of the main signs. Children don’t so much ‘learn’ as ‘absorb’, believing almost everything they hear.

Just because they argue back (a lot), that doesn’t mean they aren’t learning from everything you say and do.

So if you go around, saying (or even thinking) the normal kids’ stuff they do is a problem that needs fixing… well, you’re teaching them that they’re broken.

I know, I know. I’m not a parent, so that’s easy for me to say. I’m sure you’ve had moments where between the stress, boredom, isolation, irritation and sleep deprivation, you’ve wanted to buy them a one-way bus ticket to anywhere else.

You’re not perfect, so there’s no shame in that.

But there’s no reason to add to it.

I don’t work with children, but I’ve met hypnotists who get great results with them. Things like helping a six-year-old who threw up everything she ate, or a violent four-year-old.

I do work with adults, though.

I see people who, unconsciously, hold themselves back. When they were a child, maybe a guardian or teacher told them they were stupid, hopeless or a burden to their face.

More likely, the adult didn’t have to say it. They acted like it long enough the child picked up on the message.

And never let it go.

I’m not trying to guilt any parent who sometimes wishes their kids were different. For one thing, it’s human nature. For another, any thought that creates needless guilt is, itself, a mild cognitohazard.

But if everyone understood just how much they said to their kids – even without speaking – there’d be much less demand for my services.

Okay, this got deep, dark and heavy.

Let’s switch over to solutions.

If you watch what you say and do, you’re doing better than most.

But how do you get rid of bad mental habits?

The quickest, easiest and most reliable way is the Neural Reset, right here:

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